Testing pregnant low-income moms for drugs in New York creates outrage and controversy

Pix11 screenshot

A few days ago, Pix11 (part of the CW Television Network) published an article called Outrage as hospitals test pregnant moms for drugs near low-income neighborhoods (Stephanie Tsoflias, December 27, 2012).

The article looks at how pregnant moms across New York are being tested for drug use, specifically marijuana.  Many health care providers are administering the test without women’s consent. In some places, all women are asked to agree to testing; if women refuse, then babies are tested.

The article explores how this practice is not as supportive as one might think. In low-income neighborhoods, all mothers are being tested while in high-income neighborhoods, only women who are clearly under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs are being tested.

More worrisome is how the test results are being used – results are being sent to child protection services, with the implication that the results are an indicator of whether a woman is fit to parent.

While this article is taking a look at marijuana testing, it is directly relevant to those involved with FASD prevention or who are concerned about reducing alcohol use during pregnancy. I’ve blogged in the past about meconium testing which examines a baby’s first stools for evidence of whether a mother consumed alcohol during pregnancy. In Canada, meconium testing has been proposed as part of a comprehensive approach to addressing FASD.

While supporters of universal meconium testing believe that this will help with early identification of FASD in children, there are a lot of unresolved murky ethical issues and, at present, the practice would likely lead to more harm than good. As this article shows, while women in all socio-economic brackets use substances, certain groups of women are unfairly targeted and subject to more invasion of their privacy and are likely to experience adverse outcomes from testing.

See earlier posts on meconium screening:

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